To Survive In Italy, You Must Be Resourceful

Living – and surviving – in Italy means being resourceful.

You think something’s going to be ok because previous experience has taught you how it’s done. Well, moving to Italy means putting all that “I’ve got this figured out” attitude aside and being prepared to eat a lot of humble pie.

After a while, however long it takes for to train your brain cells to think quickly, it gets slightly easier. For example…

Exhibit A: You want to buy some stamps. Most days, I add on “… and two stamps please” to my coffee order at the local bar.

“Ah, no, we don’t have any stamps today,” comes the reply on this particular occasion. “Try the place down the street…”

Turns out that the place further down the street doesn’t have any stamps either. I’m going to have to go into one of Dante’s circles of hell: the Post Office.

It is approaching 11am. There are two workers manning the windows. I wait 20 minutes in line for my turn, only to be told that I need to wait and speak with his colleague.

Another 15 minutes goes by (… by which point my dog is really fed up!) only for me to be told “signora, we don’t have any stamps.”

“What? You’re a Post Office! How the hell is that possible” goes through my mind, but fortunately the only audible sound I make is a surprised “ma, veramente?”

Si, si, mi dispiace, ciao, arrivederci signora…

My dog takes the hint and gets up to leave. I, unfortunately, am not going to be defeated so easily. Not after having spent the best part of my morning trying to send these two letters.

“But could you, maybe…” I am aware I have to get the next word exactly right or I will find myself back out on the street a second later… “affrancare my letters?”

With a sigh, the lady backs down. My knowledge of the outdated postal system (I think the last time a letter of mine was franked was at least 20 years ago!) has meant that her coffee break will have to be postponed for another few minutes. Victory!!


Exhibit B: Taking your bicycle in Florence also means having a bag full of accessories (tissues, water, puncture kit, umbrella) that even Mary Poppins would have been proud of. You need to be equipped for every possible situation. In my case, I got in the habit of taking multiple bike locks (even if I didn’t have the corresponding key, like for the red lock below) because you never know when they might come in handy.

On this particular occasion, the railing to which I wanted to attach my bike was set a long way back into the cement wall. As a result, it required three chains, looped together, to secure my bike…. as you can see in the photo below.

Problem solved!

Exhibit C: There are two temporary signs on the street saying “no parking for building works”. These two signs happen to fall neatly on a defined orange zone. I asked an Italian friend yesterday who confirmed that the signs indicate the beginning and end of the space needed. I parked my car in the adjacent blue zone.

Just now, upon checking on the car, the builders tell me I need to move it. I maintain that I’m parked on the correct side of the sign. They shrug, in that “do I look bothered” way, saying they could just move the sign further up the street and therefore my car would be parked illegally.

I ask how much extra space they need. One of the builders is telling me that the official rule in this kind of matter – didn’t I know? – was up to the nearest lamppost. Yet his colleague signals to the parking meter, thereby superbly negating this supposed Italian rule of the road.

In any case, the difference is no more than a foot and there’s almost a yard between me and the car in front. I suggest, rather that looking for a new spot (impossible in Florence at this time of the morning anyway), that I simply close up this gap. They convene to consider the suggestion.

By the time they’re somewhere close to an agreement, I’ve already started the engine and am inching forward. In the end, once I’m sufficiently close to my neighbour’s bumper, they give me the thumbs up.

European problem solving, like a boss!

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